August 30-31, 2014
Gaza City and Beit Hanoun, Gaza
Mr. Atef el Emawai is a Palestinian refugee who fled the brutal siege of the Yarmouk camp in Damascus for the Gaza Strip. Once in Gaza he and his family soon found themselves in the middle of another war. When Israel launched the July 2014 war in Gaza, Atef's new house was destroyed and his family once again had to flee their home, this time to the still dangerous Gaza City.
Before the war in Syria, Atef had established a comfortable life in Syria for him and his family. Despite not being a Syrian citizen, Atef had married a Syrian wife and built a successful business. However, Atef lost most of his fortune when the Syrian War broke out. The violence in the Damascus suburb of Harasta forced him to relocate to the Yarmouk camp with his family. However, the ensuing violence in Yarmouk forced him and his family to flee the country all together.
Atef decided to return to his birthplace, the city of Beit Hanoun, in the Gaza Strip. For Atef, Gaza was a long sought after dream, a place of peace he had always yearned to return to.
When he arrived he established a committee to help assist the 200 Syrian refugee families living in Gaza. He also, with the assistance of his wife, established a food processing workshop in his rented house in Beit Hanoun.
However, Atef soon realized his choice to return to Gaza was a mistake when Israel launched the July 2014 war. His house and business in Beit Hanoun were demolished by Israeli forces. He and his family had to flee Beit Hanoun and had to relocate four times during the war until they settled again in Gaza City.
A man in his sixties, Atef now feels helpless and that he can no longer improve his situation. He cannot afford the university fees of Madhat, his son, or the rental of the new apartment he lives in now. Unemployment and very poor aid from the Palestinian government makes life miserable for him and his family. His wife, Mrs. Wisam says, ‘I regret I came to Gaza. I hope I can leave it.’
(02:03)“This photo was hung on the wall, along with the photos of my mother and father. We could only find the photo of my father in law, we are very proud of it of course. God have mercy on my mother’s and father’s soul, we were not able to find their photos”. (02:21)
(02:35) “Because I do not have a refrigerator, I am going to take them to the neighbor’s house, so they would not get ruined”. (02:39)
(02:53) “It was not our free will that brought us to Gaza, Gaza was our only option, one way. We were not able to go to Lebanon, or Jordan, or Turkey, or any other place. We came here because we have relatives here, there is a home, a country. (03:13)
(03:14) “We used to live in Harasta. We fled to al-Yarmouk camp because it was safe and it had many Palestinians. Though my wife is originally Syrian, we witnessed how things escalated in the area of north Damascus, which is a part of Eastern Ghouta. Harasta and Douma are a part of Eastern Ghouta”. (03:43)
(03:44) “Many people told us that we were leaving a bad place to go to another”.(03:47)
(04:48) “We took some money from a few friends, as a loan, and we started a pastry factory. When we were in Syria we had a textile factory, it was average, but we were living comfortably off that factory. We had over 40 families working in it, and over 60-70 families during high season. Now in Gaza, we were hit really hard, this war came to kill all of our dreams of living a comforting dignified life. It destroyed those dreams by taking everything that we have built and to take us back to the point zero in this old age. We are not young people to start over again”. (04:45)
(04:46) “Concerning fear, I was more afraid in Syria, to be honest, because we did not know our enemy. I used to worry about my son going out, not only from the shelling or the bombing, but also from people, from the road blocks, kidnapping. You fear rape for the girls, so the fear there was much bigger. Death is the same, but.. here the enemy is very clear, you know that you are just like anyone else. As they say, dying with a group is easier, you know that you are just like anyone else, you could die any minute. There [Syria[ the situation was much harder because you do not know where your enemy is”. (05:31)
(05:32) “I hope to go back to Syria, I do not think it is anytime soon, I do not have hope that Syria will go back. I wish of course for Syria to go back to the way it was, despite of the government, I am not talking about the regime, I am talking about the humane loving, wonderful atmosphere that used to be in the past. However, I think this matter will take too long, and based on that, I cannot return to Syria under these circumstances because, first of all, my nationality, and the fact that we are unable to go back. If you want to go back to Syria, what will you do?Simply work, a person has to work and build his life, and there is not a way to do that in this situation in Syria right now. Also to remain in Gaza, the way it is now, is also insanity”. (06:51)
(06:53) “My choice to leave Gaza is not an unlikely thing, but it is not on the table at the moment”. (07:01)
(07:02) “In the beginning of the war we moved to a house so we wouldn't be alone. It is better if we are with a group and we can run together. Then it escalated, so we spent a night in Jabalia. The house was small and packed with people. Then we went to another place and we stayed with 40 people in the same house. A Syrian family took us in, then we came to this house after 47 days.
When we first arrived to Gaza, there was this feeling of wonderment, about why we came to Gaza. People in Gaza have enough problems, and the issues they have are not easy, and even once I was saying that most Syrian refugees here have university degrees, so they said: “why did you come here? The inhabitants of Gaza are not finding jobs”. They feel that whoever comes here is taking job opportunities from the Palestinians”. (08:12)
(08:13) “We are four people, two children, and my husband and I. A small family and still we suffer. As you know, a university student has expenses for university and transportation, tuition fees”. (08:33)
(08:35) “I deeply regret coming to Gaza, I wish we had not come here”. (08:41)
(08:42) “Here are our passports. My Syrian passport, these are the stamps of entering Gaza, here is the residency [permit] of my daughter and the residency [permit] of my son. Here is my husband’s passport and it has the residency on it from Syria. These are school papers for my son and for my daughter, those papers are from Syria.
Our memories in Syria, this picture is taken in Douma garden, with Abu Salim’s family, I saw him today.
This is a bit burnt because of the fire that happened in Hanan’s house, it is from Syria. My son loves Palestine, and while he was in Syria someone got him this box that has Palestine on it for his birthday. That is the only thing he brought with him from Syria, it is the only thing for him he found in the ruins when Hanan’s house was destroyed. He brought this Qanun with him from Syria, it was not easy to carry on the plane. The room was burnt completely but it was not affected. The whole room burnt, but nothing happened to it”. (11:17)
(11:22) “This is the entrance of the house we used to live in”. (11:28)
(11:50) “Here we witnessed the first five days of the war, ever since the first day of the ground invasion, we were here, sitting two families together, from upstairs you will have a better view”. (12:06)
(12:14) “That night we spent it here at the door, I do not play cards, but I wanted to entertain them, so I told them to come up so we can play cards. We got a table and chairs and we spent the night here, the Israelis were not far away, we were sitting here and the bullets were hitting the window of the house”. (12:37)
(12:38) “This was the living room, I got this refrigerator two days prior to Ramadan, it is gone, you cannot even see it anymore. The things I told you were brought from Syria, were there, and there was our bedroom”. (13:19)
(13:28) “I had two refrigerators and a freezer because I prepare a lot of food in advance, it's all gone now”. (13:38)
(13:40) “There was the closet, there was a wall here, and here are the remains of the closet, and the remains of our things. This is what is left of our bed, this was a gift for mother’s day, the children brought it from Damascus”. (14:13)
(15:24) “A harsh and heartless enemy does not know the difference between the elderly and the young, or between men and women”. (15:34)
(15:35) “We are refugees from Syria, we lost everything in Syria, we came here and lost everything again. We do not having a stable income, I am a university student, and since my family does not have a stable income, I am trying to find work just to cover my tuition fees. Unfortunately, Gaza has an unbelievable rate of unemployment. We are trying to live, despite the siege, the destruction, the poverty and the horrible situation our population is going through, we will try to live”. (16:22)